Are NYC Construction Sites Adapting to COVID-19 Safety Threats?
Now that most New York City construction sites are active again, they are having to figure out how to safeguard their workers against all COVID-19 health concerns. Back in March, when some workers voiced their fears about inadequate safety precautions, a few major changes were made on some sites.
For example, social distancing concerns caused some employers to begin having their workers arrive at staggered start times — so that large groups of employees would stop showing up and trying to enter the grounds at the same time. Other employers began requiring all employees to stop upon arrival and undergo forehead scans to be sure they were not running a fever (a common COVID-19 symptom).
On some sites, supervisors declared that whenever new deliveries arrived, the drivers had to stay in their vehicles and wait for their goods to be fully unloaded for them.
What follows is a closer look at some of the remaining challenges that construction site supervisors are having to address, especially since city building inspectors are prioritizing regular visits. When conditions are considered substandard, these inspectors either provide warnings or immediately assess fines.
Workplace health and safety changes are being made – some have long been necessary
- More sinks for handwashing are being installed on multiple floors on many projects. Although this has been necessary for quite some time, many workers have long been forced to ride a service elevator down to the bottom floor of their building just to wash up after handling harmful or possibly toxic substances.
- Workers are now asked to constantly wear their new face masks. This is even being required during work breaks when the employees are just relaxing and not eating.
- Employees are being asked to stay home when feeling sick. In the past, the construction industry was one of the few that often shamed workers who failed to show up to work when not feeling well. Now, construction workers are being asked to prioritize the health of everyone – and stay home when experiencing any of the COVID-19 symptoms. (Of course, many of those infected, never experience any noticeable problems).
Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms can vary from one person to the next. They can include a fever, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a cough, chills, sore throat, muscle pain – or the sudden (or gradual) loss of taste and smell.
- Employers now discourage large groups of employees from congregating together. This even applies when workers first arrive, waiting to receive new assignments. They now meet in much smaller groups – and they are told to properly distance themselves from each other.
- Some of the construction sites are using much more modern safety and health equipment. Suffolk Construction Company is among those now putting thermal scanners to work. These devices can “remotely detect” the temperature of multiple employees without having to use any kind of handheld medical devices.
Some health & safety changes remain challenging – given the uniqueness of this work
- The installation of walls and the bases of scaffolding. During these routine activities, many workers nearly always need to stand side-by-side to accomplish these crucial tasks. However, some construction groups are now looking for new ways to help their workers practice social distancing while performing such common assignments. Turner Construction is now trying to decide if there’s a way to have some parts prefabricated in factories and then shipped to the job site so that their installation will require far fewer workers standing close to one another while installing them.
- The sharing of workplace tools. In the past, construction workers nearly always took turns using various tools during each workday. In response to COVID-19, there is now a new emphasis on being sure to clean and sterilize tools at the start of each workday before handing them off to other workers. While this practice may be time-consuming, it can be a crucial step towards reducing the chances of further spreading the coronavirus.
- Using special alarms that could help signal violations of social distancing. Some companies are now asking workers to attach devices to their hardhats. These will allow the employers to keep track of all worker movements – including whether not they have come within six feet of another worker.
Some popular safety ideas are now on hold since they may prove unworkable
At present, New York City construction sites are only allowed to operate between the hours of 7 AM and 6 PM during the week – unless the owners obtain special permits allowing additional hours. There are now some groups who think it would be a good idea to start allowing construction sites to employ workers throughout each 24-hour day. However, this practice could pose added problems for many residents living nearby.
- Too much added noise. Many New York City neighborhoods have large construction sites located next to a wide variety of high-rise and other housing units. Too many individuals would probably complain that either their sleep was being disrupted — or the work they are needing to do it home is being disturbed by the loud, nearby construction noise. While having fewer workers on site throughout each 24-hour period may sound desirable due to the needs of social distancing, the new problems posed by round-the-clock shifts would likely fail to outweigh the benefits.
- Even with added lighting, construction work at night could prove far too dangerous and taxing for many workers — including those willing to work graveyard shifts. Also, there would probably be a tendency at far too many construction sites for inadequate supervision and enforcement of critical safety standards. Building inspectors simply do not normally work during such hours – which could render too many workers vulnerable to unethical employers who might readily endanger their safety to increase productivity.
At present, Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is not currently reviewing this 24/7 workday option. Hopefully, it will not be enacted in the future.
All construction site employees must remain willing to report all workplace health and safety concerns, especially those related to Covid-19 — since those can directly lead to the deaths of many workers. If you are deeply concerned about losing your job, you can file a complaint online by visiting an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) website page.
If you have been seriously hurt while working on any construction site due to the negligence of someone else – or due to inadequate workplace safety, you need to contact our New York City construction site accident law firm. We’ll carefully investigate all the facts of your case and then fight hard to win the maximum compensation available. We want to help every client fully recover for all lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and other losses.